Thank You for Your Service

BOOK: Thank You for Your Service
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The Good Soldiers

Copyright © 2013 David Finkel
Foreword copyright © 2013 Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire
Introduction copyright © 2013 Carol Off

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher—or in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency—is an infringement of the copyright law.

Photograph on
this page
courtesy of the U.S. Army. Photograph on
this page
by Sascha DeNinno, courtesy of Sascha DeNinno. Photographs on
this page
courtesy of the Junction City, Kansas, Police Department. Photograph on
this page
by Shawnee Lynn Hoffman, courtesy of Shawnee Lynn Hoffman. All other photographs courtesy of the author.

Chapter 4
first appeared, in slightly different form, in
The New Yorker

Excerpt from
The Iliad
by Homer, translation by Richard Lattimore. Copyright 1951 and 2011 by University of Chicago Press. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Bond Street Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House of Canada Limited

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Finkel, David, 1955-, author
Thank you for your service / David Finkel.

eISBN: 978-0-385-68097-4

1. Soldiers–United States–Biography. 2. Post-traumatic stress disorder–Patients–Biography. 3. Iraq War, 2003-2011–Veterans–United States–Biography. 4. United States. Army–Military life–History–21st century. I. Title.

DS79.764.U6F57 2013         956.7044′3         C2013-902643-6


Jacket design by Darren Haggar
Jacket photograph by Damon Winter /The New York Times / Redux

Published in Canada by Bond Street Books, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company


For Phyllis Beekman
who taught me about damage and recovery

To Elizabeth Helen Hill
for saying okay


by Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire

War is persistent and universal, and so too is the terrible physical and psychological price paid by the men and women who fight it, and their families. David Finkel has demonstrated an exceptional ability to identify and describe the psychological consequences of modern warfare.

Thank You for Your Service
, like Finkel’s earlier book,
The Good Soldiers
, focuses on men from a U.S. Army infantry battalion that served in Baghdad, it could just as easily have been written about Canadians in Afghanistan, or any theatre of war, for that matter. This book has both global and timeless relevance. In the eloquence of the soldier-speak captured by Finkel, “…  all wars are the same, only the landscape changes.”

Finkel shows us, from an intimate vantage point, the damage done to soldiers, their families and those that command them, and he clarifies how, in military culture, the very concept of a mental injury carries a great deal of stigma. This book is both difficult to read and rewarding. It calls up the full range of emotions: tears at the plight of a young family struggling with the baggage of war, anger at the shortage of therapeutic help for the injured and their resulting overreliance on medication, and even occasionally laughter at the unique humour soldiers use to mask their emotions.

Finkel does find some signs of hope. He depicts the unflagging courage and determination of the injured, and the strong desire on the part of a number of senior generals to overcome the mental health challenges of modern warfare. Most encouragingly, he sees signs of
success in some of the many programs that now exist for the returning injured. And their predecessors from earlier wars? As Finkel writes, “Most of them came home from their wars to no help at all.”


by Carol Off

A different person came home.” That’s a lament I’ve heard so many times. A husband or wife, a son or a daughter went off as a soldier to Afghanistan or Bosnia or Rwanda but never really returned. Oh, they came back physically—they even looked the same after the tour in Medak or Sarajevo or Kandahar—but they were fundamentally altered. And never in a good way.

How is it possible? How can decades of a person’s development become rewired in a matter of six months or a year? A relatively happy and well adjusted man or woman comes back from a military mission morose and withdrawn. A solid, loving father and husband becomes a monster, capable of abuse and violence. A dependable, mood-steady warrior returns sullen and paranoid, and soon after hangs himself or smashes his car into a brick wall. What happened “over there” to change everything?

Thank You for Your Service
is a journey into the lives of those who returned to the United States from war in Iraq but could no longer fit into the space that they had occupied before deployment. The men of U.S. 2-16 Infantry Battalion who David Finkel follows so intimately are angry, disengaged and frightened of themselves and others. Wives do not recognize these men, and eventually the women run out of patience and love, or they are forced to flee the violence and chaos that now surrounds the man they married. Then there are the soldiers who simply give up trying to make sense of it all and take their own lives, leaving partners, parents and children bewildered.

The majority of post-deployment soldiers in the United States and Canada do not report the psychological problems described as Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD) or, in military language, Operational Stress Injuries. But no country’s defence department is really keeping an adequate score. One Canadian military analysis claims that 13 per cent of our troops suffered from mental and emotional problems within five years of returning from Afghanistan. But that doesn’t begin to tell the story. Soldiers are reluctant to disclose their mental health issues, fearing reprisal or mockery, and governments are loath to gather full statistics out of a concern for the costs of compensation.

Many stress injuries are explained as the obvious consequences of extreme violence. Soldiers get bashed around when their armoured carriers are ambushed and, if the men and women inside survive, their brains are often bruised. They sustain concussions in everything from combat to car accidents. They also see colleagues blown up, and then must overcome their fear in order to return to duty the next day. Given the ordeals, it is surprising that there aren’t more stress injuries. But the Canadian experience with PTSD poses more troubling and complex questions about the origins of these injuries. Why do so many soldiers suffer PTSD when they return from so-called peacekeeping missions?

Throughout the 1990s, an unprecedented number of Canadian Forces personnel headed off to United Nations—sponsored missions, principally in Africa and the former Yugoslavia. Many soldiers came back severely traumatized. Canadians were led to believe that these missions were benign and friendly and included no combat role, but the troops who took part in the operations discovered that there was often no peace to keep. They were under orders to maintain the UN mandate of “neutrality” in the midst of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Some Canadian units disobeyed the higher command in order to intervene, notably in Croatia and Rwanda. Here was their dilemma: How can a soldier, well armed and well trained, simply observe while women are raped, children murdered and whole families driven from burned and looted homes?

These acts of mutiny, as some soldiers called them, were rarely documented or reported, with one extraordinary exception: the 1993–94 United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), led by Canada’s General Roméo Dallaire. His poorly equipped force attempted to stop the genocide, and Dallaire tried to assist the media in reporting the inadequacy of his UN
mission. But Dallaire’s full disclosure did not end with the war in Rwanda.

No other person in Canada, or perhaps anywhere, has done as much as General Dallaire to reveal the psychological effects of conflict on soldiers. He volunteered the deepest, darkest secrets of his postwar trauma and warned the Canadian government that it faced an epidemic of Operational Stress Injuries from these allegedly benign peacekeeping missions.

In the early 1990s, the crippling disease was already taking its toll. In just one rotation through Croatia so many Canadian soldiers suffered illnesses that, in 1999, the Department of National Defence launched a Board of Inquiry to determine if the men and women had been exposed to some environmental toxin. Soldiers suffered skin rashes and hair loss; some had impaired eyesight or impotency; many developed cancer. But, digging deeper, the inquiry discovered that the soldiers suffered depression; their marriages had failed; their careers had crumbled; and an unknown number had taken their own lives. The board’s conclusion: they suffered from the curious and underestimated condition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Canada has long been in denial about the extent of PTSD in the ranks. Military doctors and advocates for the troops have been able to shame the government into giving more assistance to veterans, but many working soldiers struggle to hold on to their jobs as they return to lives into which they no longer fit. And there is pathetically little known about the emotional and psychological condition of the thousands of reservists who supplemented these missions.

Like the professionals in David Finkel’s account, Canadian mental health workers hoping to understand PTSD often look to the experiences of the Vietnam War. That was perhaps the first conflict in which doctors began to diagnose and document the range of debilitating pathologies that were once simply written off as “shell shock.” Yes, there are long-term effects of concussions sustained in combat, and damage sustained from fearing for one’s life each day. But those who study the nuances of PTSD identify a distinct set of common emotions—guilt, feelings of powerlessness and futility—that become exponentially more potent under extreme duress. Soldiers carry an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the lives of others, not just their colleagues but also the civilians they are supposed to protect and the civilians they end up killing
because they can’t distinguish them from the enemy. In addition, there is a sense of impotence, as Canadian troops discovered in peacekeeping, when they have the means but not the mandate to protect innocent people. And, finally, there is the despair that comes from being involved in a mission that you—or, worse, your society—might regard as wrong or futile.

War—and its often carefully disguised sister, peacekeeping—is an encounter with evil. Those who are exposed to it see the worst of what humans are capable of, and they learn what they themselves are capable of, all in the most extreme circumstances. It changes you forever. And it is almost impossible for families to understand what afflicts these returning troops.

BOOK: Thank You for Your Service
4.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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